Monday, July 1, 2013

Head Case by Jennifer Oko

Head Case
by Jennifer Oko
The Extreme Novelist
Like most writers, I am an excellent procrastinator. Truly world class. If I need to get my house clean, my laundry done, the kids signed up for their summer activities for the next five years hence, all I really need to do is decide to start a new novel. The writing might not come fast, but the dishes sure get done. The more writing I need to do, the less writing actually happens. I don’t want to get into psychoanalyzing WHY this is, why so many talented and devoted writers are even more talented procrastinators, though from my armchair I can certainly hazard a few guesses. Heck, I could spend an afternoon doing that. But obviously, since the ultimate goal is to actually finish writing another novel and not to earn a degree in armchair psychotherapy, this isn’t a very workable situation if I want to get any substantive writing done. So, I set out to find some solutions.

In April, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo, the springtime offshoot of the wildly popular National Novel Writing Month, in which you commit to writing an ambitious amount of words (50,000) in the course of the month of November. The “Camp” is held in April and July, and it is a little less intense, because you can set your own goals. In April, I set a goal of 20,000 words. The first couple of weeks were great, my novel was moving forward at a respectable clip, and the writing wasn’t even all that bad for a first draft. There is a fun word count calculator to keep you motivated, and I was having fun comparing notes with my “cabinmates.” But by the end of week two, I started to slack off, and so did they. There wasn’t much at stake (other than the ruination of my writing career), so I decided to find another way to be even more accountable. I roped in a good friend.

2. Behavioral Therapy (or shall we call it pride?)
My friend Jen lives in London and I don’t. But I love her and I miss her and I think she is an amazing writer and editor. She suffers from the similar problem of trying to balance writing with a day job, a family, getting to the gym and periodically appearing in public in a presentable manner. So together we decided to create an online check-in spot where everyday we would report our word counts and, if desired, share some pages. That worked for about three days. An unanticipated turn made Jen’s day job take over her life, and a similar thing happened with me. Because we are such good friends, we were too supportive and understanding and hence gave each other too many outs. I didn’t stop writing, but I wasn't writing enough. Not if I wanted to finish the novel I am working on before my kids go to college (they are now six and eight). Which is when I decided that the “gym incentive” might work. If you pay to join a gym, you are more likely to go. If I paid someone to check on my progress, I was more likely to make progress. So, I started sniffing around the catalogue of The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, which isn’t too far from my house. Which brings me to...

3. The Extreme Novelist
I flipped through the catalogue, and there it was. The perfect solution. A local writer with more than a dozen published novels to her name (and pen name) was offering a workshop that was essentially a boot camp for writers. In order to join, you had to sign a contract that stipulated that you would write at least 90 minutes a day, six days a week. It wasn’t cheap, but I knew I had to do it. I signed up. The class provides a support group to check in with and be accountable to. The teacher shares some tips, war stories, and motivation, and then there is an hour and a half to write. So far, it’s working. And, not unlike committing to an exercise regime, the more I do it—the more I prioritize the time and show up to my laptop —the easier it becomes. But it is a lot of work, sometimes requiring late nights and early mornings. Which leads me to this:

Given all the above, one thing is clear. All of this requires energy. So I find myself bemused by a current argument about whether caffeine helps or hinders creativity.  As one writer surmises that, like Ritalin and Adderall, too much coffee makes us hyperfocus — good for cleaning closets, not so good for synthesizing plot. "While caffeine has numerous benefits,” writes Maria Konnikova in The New Yorker,  “it appears that the drug may undermine creativity more than it stimulates it." But as James Hamblin notes on, “the most common barriers to people creating are initiative, commitment, and self-doubt. Caffeine helps with all three of those.”  Well, considering that I need to both clean the closets (and do the laundry, go to my day job, take care of my kids...) and write the books, I’ll side with Mr. Hamblin and order myself another cup of Joe. I still have 90 minutes I need to put in for today.

About The Author:

Jennifer Oko's first book, Lying Together: My Russian Affair (written under her maiden name, Jennifer Beth Cohen), was published in 2004 and received numerous positive reviews. The New York Times Book Review called Lying Together "riveting" and twice named it an Editors' Choice. The San Francisco Chronicle raved, saying it was "a heady cocktail" and "a quick, juicy read." Her second book, a satirical novel about morning television news entitled Gloss, was a Marie Claire "pick of the month" in 2007 and chosen as a "hot summer read" by USA Today.

Currently working as a freelance writer and media consultant, Jennifer is a "recovering" journalist and award-winning television news producer. A graduate of Columbia University's Journalism School, her career has taken her across the country and around the world.

Additionally, Jennifer's writing has been published in a variety of magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Maxim, Self and Allure.

Jennifer lives in Washington, DC with her husband and their son and daughter.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Head Case

Genre: Humorous Mystery

Publisher: Jennifer Oko
Release Date: February 2013

Book Description:

As one reviewer states: "HEAD CASE is an enjoyable gem of a mystery, and more...There are drug-dealing grannies, pill-popping celebrities, Russian mob bosses, eccentric ex-Soviet chemists, feuding roommates, faltering friendships, bad bosses and a rat named Raskolnikov - so how can you not have fun?"

HEAD CASE is a new, exciting and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny mystery from an author whose work has been called "SIMPLY RIVETING" by The New York Times and "SHARP AND FAST-PACED" by Publisher's Weekly. It's like Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones meets Carl Hiaasen's Nature Girl (with a dash of Janet Evanovich's One for the Money) as Olivia embarks on a postmortem quest to deconstruct the remarkable events that lead up to her mind-altering death.

A comic satire of the influence of the psychopharmaceutical industry on American life, HEAD CASE takes Olivia and her estranged friend and roommate Polly Warner on a collision course involving ethically challenged executives, spotlight-hungry celebrities, third-rate mobsters and drug-dealing babushkas. A smart and savvy page-turner, HEAD CASE explores the meaning of personal relationships, emotional intelligence, and mental health while taking the reader on a synapse-stirring, neurotransmitting rollicking ride.

Praise for Head Case

"Head Case is an enjoyable gem!" ~Dan McGirt, Amazon Reviewer

"Oko's writing is as addictive as the pills she pokes fun at!" ~ElevenelevenAM, Amazon Reviewer

"All I can say is that if you don't put ALL YOUR OTHER BOOKS AWAY and read just the FIRST chapter you are NUTS; you will find yourself going and going and I will just say it now --your welcome!" ~Jennifer Elizabeth Hyndman, Amazon Reviewer



It's all very dramatic. Although I suppose on some level, in the end, that is what Polly wanted. I mean, she didn't want anyone dead, certainly not anyone she knew. The opposite really. She once told me she just wanted it all to be very alive. Life. Which is drama, right?
I think she was probably right, that to some degree that's what we all want. Or wanted. If we were going to be satisfied just living our lives with the dull drudgery of the everyday, then why would we spend so much time fantasizing about what's next, what's in, what's hot? If dull drudgery made us fly, Polly wouldn't even have the silly career she has. Celebrity publicists wouldn't exist. No one would aspire to anything. And without aspirational living, who would care about celebrities, luxury goods, or, hear me out now, the pursuit of happiness. Right? So maybe there's a very direct link between our celebrity culture and our societal eagerness to pop a pill.
I know it might sound like a stretch that there could be a connection between designer psychopharmaceuticals and, say, designer fashions, but if you stop to consider that, with the exception of certain celebrity Scientologists, just about everyone who is anyone in the world of the aspirational has certainly popped a few in their time, it makes sense. We live by these assumptions that overnight success is possible, that shiny happy people are models to uphold, that tomorrow any of us could be the next A-lister, the next gazillionaire. Couldn't there be a connection here? If there is a pill for every little micro-problem in our brains, why not believe that there's a quick fix for everything else too? I'm sure Polly used to believe that. I know she did.
This is what's so nice about being dead.
I get to play the role of wise sage, and with an amazing perspective. Because when you die, not only can you flit around the present, you also get to watch stuff in rewind. You get to go inside peoples' heads in the past tense and follow the firings of their synapses, medicated or not, as they spit them toward the present. Yes, Cher, it turns out that you can turn back time. But the catch is-drum roll please-you can't be alive to do it. And so, proverbial remote in hand, I'm now able to backtrack; I can take a look and try to figure out how this all happened to my best friend. And by extension, of course, how this happened to me. How, at the ripe age of twenty-eight, with a future as bright as whatever cliché the tabloids will soon be gushing, my body-the body of Olivia Zack-is lying down there in the back of a black Lexus SUV (license plate NYX1KZ, in the event anyone can do anything with this information) while I'm up here, floating around bodiless in the ether, shape-shifting, wall-transgressing, house-haunting, and whatever else it might be that you imagine we ghosts can do. I'm trying to figure that out as well. After all, this is fairly new for me, too. I've only been like this for a few minutes, just long enough to zip up to Polly's apartment and witness her flailing about, waiting for me to come and comfort her once again.
Anyway, in order to figure this out, it seems logical that before I can fully focus on my ending, I need to go back to the source of the whole mess. Because it's very clear, especially considering the other blood that was spilled near my remains, that I seem to have gotten caught up in a drug war. And I'm not talking crack cocaine. I'm talking Prozac. I'm talking Ritalin. I'm talking Adderall, Lexapro, Zyprexa, Klonopin and what have you. The good stuff. The blockbusters. The billion-dollar babies.
Go get some popcorn. The show's about to begin.

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